India – Northeast (1979 – first combat deaths)


Type of Conflict
Parties to the Conflict
Status of the Fighting
Number of Deaths
Political Developments
Arms Sources

Economic Factors

Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The Government of India and northeastern state governments (especially Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya) are in conflict with rebel groups that want either greater autonomy or independence. Some rebel groups are based in neighbouring countries; Manipur and Nagaland factions operate from Burma, while Tripura rebels operate from Bangladesh, and Assam factions operate from Bhutan.

What (started the conflict): Since 1947, indigenous national groups have seen their cultural identities threatened from several fronts. Following independence, successive Indian governments have used discriminatory policies in an attempt to assimilate historically autonomous groups into mainstream Indian society. After the partition of Pakistan, many indigenous groups, especially Bengalis, feared that the influx of migrants would cause them to lose their cultural identities. To minimize central government interference, rebel groups have sought greater autonomy in their respective regions. In recent years, some have signed agreements with the government aimed at peaceful compromise. However infighting between rebel factions has prolonged the insurgency.

When (has fighting occurred): Regional tensions began when India became independent in 1947. These tensions were intensified by an influx of migrants following the 1971 secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan. Rebel groups have responded to invasive central government policies with low-level insurgency. Conflict has fluctuated in the affected states over the years. From the early 1990s to 2011, approximately 800,000 people fled Western Assam due to interethnic conflict. As a result, the region has stagnated economically and its people have felt marginalized.

Where (is the conflict taking place): Most conflict has occurred in six of northeast India’s seven “sister states”: Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya (not Arunachal).



2017 Violence by insurgents had decreased significantly by the end of 2017—by as much as 75-80%, according to the Union home minister Rajnath Singh,. Insurgent groups suffered heavy losses by Indian security forces. Some were killed or injured, some were arrested, and many surrendered. Security forces also confiscated munitions and weapons.

2016 Violence and conflict deaths declined in all states except Assam. This year was marked by protests throughout Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland to unpopular government plans to revise district borders. In Assam, protesters demanded a separate Bodoland state after the Assam government failed to deliver on its promise to create one (Hindu Times). In Manipur, the state government announced plans to create seven new districts – a decision opposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) and other Naga groups that accused the government of appropriating traditional Naga land for non-Naga people (Indian Express). The UNC imposed an economic blockade throughout the state. In Nagaland, the state government promised to reserve 33 per cent of state and local government seats for women. Tribal groups protested this decision, deeming it a violation of tradition and customary law.

2015 Conflict deaths dropped from 465 the previous year to 273. The level of violence declined in Assam and Meghalaya, but increased in Nagaland and particularly in Manipur. In June Manipur was the site of a National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) guerilla raid that killed at least 18 Indian soldiers (The Economic Times). Indian troops responded by attacking an NSCN-K hideout in Myanmar. The Government of India and the National and the Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the NSCN-K’s rival, reached a peace agreement in August. The NSCN-K was outlawed by the Indian government in September.

2014 Insurgency-related deaths increased from 252 in 2013 to 465 this year. Attacks by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland in Assam resulted in high casualties. Clashes related to a border dispute between Assam and Nagaland left at least 15 people dead and 10,000 displaced. In a victory for government forces, 796 militants surrendered In Meghalaya—a staggering increase from nine in 2013. Approximately 300 Brus left relief camps in Tripura and returned to Mizoram as part of the sixth phase of the repatriation process of Bru refugees.In Manipur, the United Naga Council (UNC) entered into talks with government representatives in February. In Nagaland, the Lenten Agreement was signed on March 28 in a move toward reconciliation among three Naga militant groups. A new militant group, Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF), was created in Maghalaya after it split from A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK). In his national budget, newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged $8.6 billion for infrastructure development in the region. 

2013 Conflict fatalities decreased from 316 in 2012 to 252 in 2013. Prime Minister Singh and Union Home Minister Sushikumar Shinde both cited progress in the Northeast, noting that more insurgent groups had signed the Suspension of Operations agreement or the Memorandum of Understanding. The government expressed concern over an increase to seven in the number of Naxalite-related incidents in the region. Although violence levels decreased, internal migration, an influx of refugees, and infighting among factions were impediments to further reductions. A December report noted that six new militant groups had emerged in Assam in the last two years. Ethnic conflagration was still prevalent; clashes between Rabhas and others resulted in 20 deaths. In October, the central government announced the creation of a new state, Telangana, which would officially separate from Andhra Pradesh in June 2014. Since several ethnic groups in the Northeast seek a separate state, the announcement increased tensions with Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas in Assam; tribal groups in Tripura; and Garos in Meghalaya.

2012 Three hundred and sixteen people died in the conflict, nearly half in July and August. Large-scale strikes were called to protest the government’s inability to contain violence. The government responded by banning strikes. More than 700 rebels surrendered and more than 500 were arrested, including high-level members of the United People’s Democratic Front, effectively ending the activities of this group. Dima Halam Daoga (the Black Widow group) and Dilip Nunsia signed a peace accord with the Central and State Governments. This development came eight years after a ceasefire agreement. Attacks on Assam villages resulted in the displacement of more than 187,000 people.

2011 The overall security situation improved as fatalities and incidents of violence continued to fall and peace talks between militant groups and the government yielded positive results, including the surrendering of arms. Most violence was focused in Assam and Manipur, but abductions and extortion remained a problem throughout the region.

2010 The death toll fell to 322. Assam and Nagaland saw the greatest improvements to security. A growing number of rebel groups, most notably the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), entered into talks with the government. A number of ULFA commanders surrendered; their leader was released from prison to engage in peace talks. Some analysts began to express hope for an end of the insurgency in Assam.

2009 The number of fatalities fell significantly from 2008, from roughly 1,130 to 843. Fatalities increased in the state of Assam, but significant gains were reported in counterinsurgency activities; at least 732 members of various terrorist groups surrendered.

2008 In Assam, several ULFA field commanders opted for a ceasefire and peace negotiations with the state. While this raised hopes for a reduction of violence, violence increased toward the end of the year, partly because of a conflict between Bodo tribesmen and Muslims. Manipur and Nagaland were plagued with violence and were the setting for more than 95 per cent of the deaths that occurred in the seven Northeastern states. The total of more than 1,130 conflict deaths represented a new annual high for the region, almost double that for 2006.

2007 A series of attacks by the ULFA against Hindi-speaking migrant labourers killed more than 300. The government launched an “all-out offensive” against the ULFA, deploying some 13,000 troops. Elections in Manipur were carried out amid high levels of violence as Naga rebels attempted to block participation by mainstream political parties. A ceasefire between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isaac/Muivah (NSCN-I/M) and the government was extended indefinitely.

2006 Ceasefires between the government and some rebel groups held. Peace negotiations met with little success. Clashes between other rebel groups and security forces continued, and extortion by rebels increased. Efforts were made to secure India’s borders with Burma and Bangladesh. More than 600 people were killed.

2005 Negotiations between the federal and state governments and a number of rebel groups continued, with mixed results. There were clashes between government troops and rebels, between rebel groups and between tribes; violent police oppression and an attack by Burmese troops on rebel bases inside Burma. At least 700 people were killed.

2004 Conflict between communities, terrorist attacks and clashes between government security forces and rebel groups resulted in more than 800 deaths. The Bhutanese and Burmese militaries continued to assault rebel bases in their territories, while the Indian and Bangladeshi armies launched their first joint military operations against rebels. In a departure from past policy, the Indian government announced that it was willing to begin peace talks with any rebel group that gave up violence, even if they had not begun to disarm.

2003 Fighting–including communal violence and “ethnic cleansing”–caused approximately 1,000 deaths. Civilian deaths represented almost half the fatalities. The Bhutanese army attacked Assamese insurgents based in Bhutan, killing approximately 100 and dislodging them from their bases. Peace negotiations continued between the government and several insurgent groups, particularly those based in Nagaland.

2002 Fighting claimed close to 1,000 lives, despite the initiation of peace negotiations between some rebel groups and the Indian government.

2001 A major joint offensive by the militaries of India and Burma to dislodge separatist rebels operating along India’s northeastern border failed to prevent rebel attacks on civilians and security forces. The government’s decision to extend a ceasefire with rebels in Nagaland to other states in the Northeast was reversed in July. Approximately 1,400 people were killed.

2000 Violence escalated, particularly in the last two months of the year, but there were conflicting claims about who carried out the killings. The United Liberation Front of Assam denied targeting civilians and accused the government of masterminding the upsurge in violence. Attacks involving tribal Bodo groups occurred in western Assam. An estimated 900 rebels surrendered to government forces. More than 1,700 people died.

1999 Fighting between rebel groups and government security forces and clashes among rival insurgent groups that often targeted civilians continued. More than 1,200 civilians, rebels and government forces were killed.

1998 Following a government offensive against the largest insurgent group early in the year, the conflict reverted to its deadly combination of government-rebel skirmishes, abuses by security forces and attacks by rebels on government officials and on rival insurgent forces and their communities.

1997 Insurgent attacks on government forces and public transportation, skirmishes between government and rebel forces, factional feuds among rival insurgent groups and abuses by government forces all contributed to an escalation of regional violence, despite ceasefires by some rebel groups.

1996 Major ethnic clashes in May, border tensions with Nagaland, gun fights between rebels and the police and army, attacks on civilians and Bodo rebel bombings, including on a main railway in December, killed at least 1,200, intensifying the conflict.

Type of Conflict

State formation

Parties to the Conflict

1. Government of India: India has the third-largest military in the world; however, its modernization has been held back by an inefficient domestic arms industry. While civilian police are responsible for internal security, India’s armed forces support both police and paramilitary forces in the eastern regions. According to the 2016 edition of The Military Balance, Indian armed forces comprise:

  • Army: 1,200,000
  • Air Force: 127,200
  • Navy: 58,350
  • Coast Guard: 9,550
  • Paramilitary: 1,403,700.

From 2004 until 2014, the government was led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (Indian National Congress Party) and the United Progressive Alliance coalition. After May 2014 elections, Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, became the new prime minister. Pranab Mukherjee is the first Bengali to sit as President (2012 to present).

2. Northeast state governments: Involved in conflict are six of the seven sister states: Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. While state police and special forces participate in all counterinsurgency efforts, national forces are chiefly engaged in combatting rebel groups.


Various rebel groups: Dozens of armed groups, many with shared ethnic concerns, operate in northeastern India. These groups are fighting for increased territorial autonomy or seeking outright independence from India. While rebel groups cooperate on occasion, they frequently find themselves in conflict with each other, and groups split and merge frequently. Three of the seven sister states – Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland – have hosted most of the recent violence, although conflict in Maghalaya has increased since 2009.

3. Assam Rebel Groups: The following groups have been active or have engaged in peace talks in recent years; other smaller groups have been active from time to time:

a. United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA): Established in 1979, the ULFA is an armed separatist group that seeks a “sovereign socialist Assam.” In 1990, India banned the ULFA as a terrorist organization. In 2011, the ULFA took a step toward peace and signed a tripartite agreement for Suspension of Operations with the Indian government and the Assam government. Historically, the ULFA has been the largest and most active rebel group in Assam (South Asian Terrorism Portal). The ULFA cooperates with the GNLA in Meghalaya state to maintain an open corridor to hideouts in Bangladesh.

b. National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB): In 1986, NDFB formed as a separatist group seeking an independent state for the Bodo people. NDFB has attacked security forces and non-Bodo civilians, and the Indian government group has labelled it a terrorist organization. The group has not been militarily active since 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party, which supported their cause, was elected. In October 2016, however, NDFB organized a protest with the All Bodo Students’ Union and People’s Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement, advocating for a separate state.

c. Dima Halam Daoga (DHD): The DHD seeks a separate state for the Dimasa (“sons of the great river”) tribe, in Dimasa-dominated areas of Assam and Dimapur district in Nagaland. The group is an offshoot of the Dimasa National Security Front (DNSF), which surrendered en masse in 1995, except for Commander-in-Chief Jewel Garlossa. In September 2009, the group surrendered to the Central Reserve Police Force and has largely observed a ceasefire with the government since 2003. Cadres remain active voices in politics (South Asian Terrorism Portal).

d. Black Widow (BW): BW is a breakaway faction of Dima Halam Daoga. The split was led by Jewel Gorlossa in 2003. It seeks to preserve the identity of the Dimasa tribe and a separate state for this group in the Dimasa Hasao district only. This group was a part of the surrender to local police in September 2009 (South Asian Terrorism Portal).

e. United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS): In 1999, UPDS formed from a merger between two rebel groups, Karbi National Volunteers and Karbi People’s Front. In 2002, the group signed a one-year ceasefire with the government, which led to a new faction, the KLNLF, that split off in 2004 (see below). From 2002 to 2006, the group held six rounds of peace talks with the Indian government, but pulled out due to a lack of progress. In 2011, the group signed a tripartite peace agreement with the Indian and state governments, and the UPDS became an actor in the reorganization of the Karbia Anglong autonomous district. UPDS officially disbanded in December 2014 and surrendered all its cadres and leaders.

f. Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF): In 2004, KLNLF split from UPDS (see above) over disagreements about peace talks with the government. This group claims to fight for self-determination for the Karbi tribe and has close links with ULFA. Since the split, UPDS and KLNLF have had several territorial disputes.

4. Manipur Rebel Groups: PREPAK, PLA, and UNLF (see below) together operate as the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF), an umbrella organization for the separatist organizations. Reportedly active groups include:

a. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK): Formed in 1977, PREPAK claims to be the “most genuine revolutionary group” in Manipur and seeks to expel “outsiders” from the state.

b. People’s Liberation Army (PLA): Formed in 1978, the PLA is fighting for a separate, socialist state of Manipur that unites all ethnic groups. It conducts guerrilla warfare against Indian security forces, but claims not to target Manipur’s police.

c. United National Liberation Front (UNLF): Formed in 1964, UNLF is considered the oldest Meitei insurgent group in the state. It seeks to establish an independent, socialist Manipur.

d. Military Council faction of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP-MC): Formed in 1980, the KCP-MC is concerned with the preservation of Meitei culture, and demands a separate Manipur, independent of India.

e. Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP): KCP was formed in 1980 to preserve the Meitei culture and calls for the secession of Manipur from India. In 1995, the group split into several factions. The factions operated separately, working toward the same goal and using similar armed strategies. In 2006, the KCP led a central committee meeting and all of the factions remerged.

f. People’s United Liberation Front (PULF): Formed in 1993, PULF seeks to safeguard the rights of the Muslim minority in Manipur and to secure an Islamic state in India’s northeast in collaboration with other Islamist groups.

g. Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA): Formed in 1999, the KRA intends to establish a separate Kuki state.

5. Nagaland rebel groups


a. National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN): Formed in 1980, NSCN seeks to establish a Greater Nagaland based on the ideals of Mao Zedong. This group is active in the state of Nagaland and the hills of Manipur. In recent years, most of the fighting in Nagaland has been between two factions of the NSCN: the Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Khapalng (NSCN-K). In April 2015, the Reformation faction (NSCN-R) was formed to rebuild trust with Naga society and support peace in the region. In August 2015, NSCN leader Thuigaleng Muivah signed a peace accord with the Indian government.

6. Meghalaya rebel groups

a. Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC): HNLC is a product of a 1992 split in the Hynniewtrep Achik Liberation Council (HALC), the first militant tribal group in Maghalaya. The HNLC seeks to transform Maghalaya into an exclusively Khasi region, free of domination by the Garo tribe and other outsiders. In 2016, several HNLC members surrendered and expressed interest in holding political dialogues with the Meghalaya government.

b. Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC): Formed in 1995, ANVC seeks to carve out a homeland for the Achik in the Garo hills. In 2004, the group signed a six-month ceasefire with the government, which has been periodically extended since then.

c. Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA): Formed in 2009 by a former Deputy Superintendent of Police, GNLA military actions are led by Sohan D. Shira, former ANVC area commander. The GNLA, made up of deserters from the ANVC, NDFB, and Liberation of Achik Elite Force (LAEF), has fought for a sovereign Garoland in the western areas of Meghalaya, killing and bombing, conducting abductions and extortion. In 2012, it forged links with the Assam-based ULFA, which sought better access to the border with Bangladesh.

d. A’chik Songna An’ Pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK): Formerly known as Garo National Liberation Army-Faction (GNLA-F), ASAK left the GNLA in 2013.

e. Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF): AMEF split from ASAK in 2014.

7. Tripura Rebel Groups:

a. The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT): Formed in 1989, the NLFT is a nationalist organization that aims to secede from India and establish an independent Tripuri state. Supported by the Baptist Church of Tripura, the NLFT has been accused of forcibly converting tribal villagers to Christianity. In 2001, the NFLT split into factions Biswamohan and Nayanbasi. In 2002, India labelled it a terrorist organization. The Tripura state government supports the NLFT and reportedly supplies it with arms and money.

b. All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF): Formed in 1990, the ATTF seeks to expel all Bengali-speaking settlers from Tripura, return tribal lands to their original owners, and remove from the voter rolls all migrants who entered Tripura after 1956.


Neighbouring states: Many insurgents operate from countries that border the affected northeast states. For example, several Assamese groups operate out of Bhutan; insurgents from Manipur and Nagaland are based in Burma and rebels from Tripura are reportedly situated in Bangladesh.


Status of Fighting

2017 On March 30, Indian security forces killed two members of the I.K. Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. On April 2, security forces killed three members of the UKDA. On October 27, an improvised explosive device in Manipur’s Thoubal district was diffused by the police.

By September 2017, approximately 30,000 militants had surrendered and were being rehabilitated so that they could re-enter Indian society.

2016 In northeastern states, armed groups used extortion, abduction, and unlawful killing to advance their military strategies (Amnesty International). In Assam, suspected Bodo militants attacked a market in August, killing 14 people, including one militant. Assam security forces alleged that the NDFB were the perpetrators, although the NDFB denied this (International Crisis Group).

In the fall, the Manipur state government proposed the creation of two new state districts, Jiribam and Sadar Hills; the Naga felt that this majority Meiteis decision would hurt their interests. On November 1, the United Naga Council (UNC) – a group claiming to represent Naga tribes throughout Manipur – set up an indefinite economic blockade of two key highways, Imphal-Dimapur (NH2) and Imphal-Jiribam (NH37). By preventing the entry of trucks carrying essential goods, they hoped to force the government to retract its proposal (Hindu Times). However, on December 9 the state government issued a notification announcing the creation of seven new districts in Manipur. The government claimed that the plan to increase the number of districts from nine to 16 was meant for “administrative convenience.” While this change was welcomed by the Neiteis and Kukis people, the Naga strongly opposed it. Attacks, on security personnel, possibly by the National Social Council of Nagaland, killed three and injured approximately 12 (Hindu Times).

On December 16, three bombs went off in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, although no injuries or deaths were reported; both UNC cadres and the Naga People’s Front were blamed (Hindu Times). The government then placed parts of the capital under an indefinite curfew and shut down both mobile and internet services (Hindu Times). On December 18, residents in Imphal lashed out against the ongoing economic blockade, burning more than 20 buses and SUVs (Hindu Times).

2015 Violent incidents involving the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) declined significantly. Indian security forces arrested many NDFB militants in January (International Crisis Group). Major clashes occurred between Indian security forces and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), which unilaterally ended a ceasefire in March. In late May and early June MSCN-K killed 30 Indian soldiers. According to The Economic Times, a June 4 assault in Manipur killed at least 18 soldiers (The Economic Times). The Asia Times claimed that the raid was one of the deadliest attacks on military personnel in the history of the Northeast insurgency (Asia Times, “A new approach needed to end tribal insurgency in North-eastern India,” June 22, 2015). Indian forces then attacked an NSCN-K camp in Myanmar, killing as many as 100 (The Times of India).

2014 Assam was the state hardest hit by violent conflict this year, followed by Meghalaya. Manipur and Nagaland experienced a steady decline in insurgency-related violence. In early May, at least 41 people were killed in Assam in an attack attributed to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). Also in Assam, at least 72 people were killed in attacks from December 23-24 for which NDFB was also held responsible. Immediately following the December attacks, the army launched a military operation against the Songbijit faction of the NDFB. At least five Bodos were killed. Clashes related to a border conflict between Assam and Nagaland left at least 15 people dead and 10, 000 displaced in Assam. In subsequent protests against the failure of the police to prevent the violence, five people were killed by police forces. In Manipur, 536 militants were arrested and another 93 surrendered. On July 11, counterinsurgency operation Hill Storm was launched in Meghalaya. In Meghalaya 796 militants surrendered, while only nine did so in 2013. In Mizoram, more than 2,423 displaced Brus fled to Tripura in January, following reports of violence perpetrated by Mizo youth.

2013 The central government used paramilitary forces to help Northeastern states contain the insurgency. Levels of violence decreased somewhat, but internal migration, an influx of refugees, and infighting among factions impeded further reductions. A report released in December by the Institute of Peace and Conflict studies noted that six new militant groups had emerged in Assam in the past two years. Ethnic clashes between Rabhas and non-Rabhas in Western Assam over elections for the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council killed 20 people. In late December tensions between Karbis and Rengma Nagas in Southern Assam resulted in the deaths of nine Rengma Nagas and 10 Karbis in retaliation. The government expressed concern about the spread of the Maoist insurgency into the region following seven Naxalite-related incidents in 2013. Others suggested that Maoist influence in the region was of little consequence since many factions will not concede their power to ‘outsiders.’ Discrimination against people from the Northeast, including common hate crimes, continued to fuel feelings of isolation from the rest of the country.

2012 Large-scale violence involving Bodos and Muslims occurred. At least 150 people were killed in clashes in July and August. This violence was partly sparked by the killing of four Bodos by an unidentified man, provoking retaliation. Later in August a two-month general strike was called in districts of Assam to protest the government’s inability to end the violence. The state banned strikes the next day. Security conditions also deteriorated in Nagaland, Manipur, and Meghalaya; Manipur saw an increase in fatalities from 65 in 2011 to 110. In 2012, eight years after a ceasefire agreement, the Dima Halam Daoga signed a peace agreement with the Central and State Governments. Fatalities among security forces declined 50 per cent from 2011.The state has been engaged in extensive operations against the Garo National Liberation Army since its formation. At least 58 persons were abducted in 2012 (46 in 2011).

2011 Reports of violence and the number of fatalities fell significantly. Most violence was limited to Manipur and Assam. Both states saw a dramatic improvement in security, but the number of abductions and extortion cases increased. Some rebel groups in Assam, including the UPDS, continued to surrender their arms; peace talks between the ULFA and the government yielded positive results. Manipur saw a decline in militant fatalities, but civilian and security force fatalities remained steady. Although there was little violence in Nagaland, there were 12 reported cases of extortion and abduction.

2010 There was less violence and fewer than half the fatalities of the previous year. Improvements were most pronounced in Assam and Manipur, which had been the most violent regions in recent years. In Assam, the strength of the main rebel group (ULFA) decreased substantially; many rebels surrendered in an effort to further talks with the government. Administration in Manipur remained weak. Incidents of violence in Maghalaya were similar to those of the previous year, when violence increased dramatically. A few deaths occurred in Nagaland and Tripura.

2009 Many members of terrorist groups were arrested or surrendered. The number of fatalities decreased  from 1,054 in 2008 to 843. Assam saw a rise in fatalities from 373 to 392, with an increase in militant deaths and a decline in civilian. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, this indicated that the state was gaining ground. Also noteworthy was the “near decapitation” of one of the most dangerous groups in this conflict, the UFLA. September and October saw the mass surrender of hundreds of members of Black Widow. By the end of the year, 494 militants had been arrested while 732 had surrendered. Manipur saw a reduction in violent incidents, but, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the state government lacked the political will to confront the insurgents on a sustained basis with a coherent strategy. In Nagaland, the acceleration of violence since 2001 seemed to have been dramatically reversed; the state saw only 17 fatalities. There was concern, however, about the introduction of a new Bangladesh-based group, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Only minor incidents were reported in Mizoram and the other states. However, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, counterinsurgency gains were tentative and remained reversible, with little evidence of civil governance in the region.

2008 Violence rose markedly in the last four months of the year. In addition to the secessionist insurgency in Assam, a clash between Bodo tribesmen and Muslims broke out in October in which dozens were killed. In Nagaland, the number of deaths increased significantly, due primarily to internecine fighting between two factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN). Fighting in Nagaland reportedly affected neighbouring areas of Manipur.

2007 Peace talks between Delhi and ULFA remained stalled as numerous surges of violence plagued Assam. ULFA rebels were suspected of killing more than 300 Hindi-speaking migrants, prompting the government to launch an all-out offensive. Talks between the NSCN-IM and the government began in December. Tense state elections in Manipur resulted in violent clashes as Naga rebels attempted to prevent the participation of mainstream political parties.

2006 Violent clashes continued to erupt between government security forces and rebels in Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram. Manipur and Assam experienced the most violence. The government offensive against insurgencies in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh was considered fairly successful. Rebel activities included extortion of government offices, business and civilians; abductions; attacking security forces and government targets; and bombing oil refineries and pipelines. Ceasefires were maintained between the government and the NSCN-IM (Nagaland), NSCN-K (Nagaland), UPDS (Assam), NDFB (Assam) and the ANVC (Meghalaya). Peace talks between the government and the ULFA were attempted, but met with little success.

2005 Clashes between government forces and rebels were reported throughout the Northeast, including Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and Mizoram. Fighting took place on both sides of the India-Burma border as the Indian government launched attacks on Burmese rebels camped in India’s Mizoram state and the Burmese army attacked rebel bases of the NSCN-Khaplang in Burma. Inter-tribal and inter-rebel clashes were reported in Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur and in particular Assam, where year end saw deadly clashes between Dimasa and Karbi rebels. Local police forces fired on mass street demonstrations in several states, killing dozens. Ceasefires began or continued between government forces and the NDFB, BNLF and NSCN-IM.

2004 Ethnic clashes, sporadic fighting between Indian security forces and rebel groups as well as rebel terrorist attacks on civilian targets continued, resulting in more than 800 deaths. The most serious incidents were rebel attacks on civilians, including the bombing of an Independence Day parade that killed 18 civilians and wounded dozens more. Bhutanese and Burmese attacks on rebel bases resulted in the destruction of several bases. New joint Indian-Bangladeshi operations against rebel groups had some success; a joint India-Burma operation late in the year destroyed several rebel bases.

2003 Ethnic violence and clashes between insurgents and Indian security forces continued to plague Northeastern states, with some groups also targeting civilians. In Assam, militants, including members of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), attacked Biharis and other Hindi-speakers late in the year, killing approximately 50 people and forcing tens of thousands to flee the state. In December, the Bhutanese army attacked Assamese insurgent bases in Bhutan, driving insurgents away and killing approximately 100. During state assembly elections in Tripura in March, militant groups employed violent tactics to intimidate and coerce voters and political leaders, resulting in approximately 50 deaths.

2002 Rebel groups across Northeastern India continued to fight government forces and target civilians. In Assam, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland was accused of “ethnic cleansing,” when it summarily executed residents of a village in Kokrajhar district. Fighting intensified in Tripura where the National Liberation Front of Tripura carried out increasingly brutal attacks against the paramilitary.

2001 In May, the Indian and Burmese armies initiated a major joint military offensive against rebel bases in India’s Northeast, bordering Burma. This did not prevent attacks on civilians and security forces.

2000 Violence escalated, particularly in the last two months, but there were conflicting claims about who was responsible. The ULFA, accused of many attacks on civilians, denied targeting civilians and in turn accused the government of using former ULFA rebels and masterminding the upsurge in violence. Under pressure from New Delhi, the Royal Bhutan Army intensified operations against Assamese rebels to drive out the separatists on the Bhutanese side of the border. There also were attacks involving tribal Bodo groups in western Assam. An estimated 900 rebels surrendered to government forces.

1999 The ULFA battled police and former ULFA members working with government forces. The NSCN-Khaplang fought with security forces; Bodo and Santhal groups clashed.

1998 After a government offensive against the largest insurgent group early in the year, the conflict reverted to its deadly combination of government-rebel skirmishes, abuses by security forces and rebel attacks on government officials and rival insurgent forces and their communities.

1997 Insurgent attacks on government forces and public transportation, skirmishes between government and rebel forces, factional feuds among rival insurgent groups and abuses by government forces all contributed to an escalation of regional violence in spite of ceasefires agreed to by some rebel groups.

1996 The year saw tensions in border areas shared with Nagaland. Ethnic clashes between Bodos and Adivasis killed at least 168 and created 168,000 refugees. Ambushes, clashes between ULFA rebels and police and army, and attacks on civilians killed dozens. Bodo rebel bombings, including a main railway in December, killed dozens more.

Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: South Asia Terrorism Portal reported 21,475 deaths in the seven affected states since 1992 (South Asian Terrorism Portal). Other estimates indicate at least 40,000 deaths since 1979. Media have estimated that between 20,000 and 25,000 have died in the Nagaland area alone.

2017 The conflict result in 103 fatalities in 2017, including 34 civilians, 13 members of security forces, and 56 terrorists. 

2016 Fatalities decreased from the previous year, with 160 conflict-related deaths in the seven affected states – more than 100 fewer than in 2015. Among the dead were 82 insurgents, 17 security force personnel, and 61 civilians. Only in Assam was the number of deaths higher in 2016 than in 2015.

Refugees and IDPs: According to 2015 figures, there were 612,000 IDPs in India from all armed conflict and intercommunal violence; 2016 figures were unavailable (CIA World Factbook).

2015 On the whole, fatalities fell significantly from 2014 to 2015. The South Asian Terrorism Portal reported 273 conflict deaths in India’s Northeast: 62 civilians, 49 security force personnel, and 162 terrorists. The decline in deaths was most noticeable in Assam, where numbers fell from 305 to 59. However, the number of conflict deaths increased by 40 in Manipur and 30 in Nagaland (South Asian Terrorism Portal).

Refugees and IDPs: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees indicated that there were 10,359 refugees and 22,414 asylum seekers originating from all conflicts in India (UNHCR).

2014 Fatalities rose sharply from 2013. The South Asia Terrorism Portal reported a total of 465 insurgency-related deaths: 245 civilians, 23 security forces, and 197 militants. Assam alone had 305 deaths.

Refugees and IDPs: Approximately 32,000 Bru refugees reside in camps in remote parts of Kanchanpur, Tripura. Approximately 300 Brus left relief camps in Tripura and returned to Mizoram as part of the sixth phase of the repatriation process of Bru refugees. Ten thousand people were displaced in Assam by clashes in August related to a border conflict between Assam and Nagaland. Total UNHCR counts for refugees and asylum seekers from India, which include all causes and three ongoing conflicts, are 11,155 and 13,684 respectively as of July 2014.

2013 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, fatalities decreased in 2013 to 252: 95 civilians, 21 Security Forces, and 136 militants.

Refugees and IDPs: The UNHCR does not disaggregate the number of refugees from each of three ongoing conflicts in India. There were 11,784 refugees and 6,193 asylum seekers from India in mid-2013.

2012 According to the SATP, total deaths of 316 included 90 civilians and 226 combatants. Nearly all occurred in July and August. According to the International Crisis Group, in July conflict between the Bodo tribe and Muslim Bengalis resulted in 56 deaths and in August 95 people were killed in Assam.

Displaced: According to a State Home Department report, 5,000 houses in 244 Assam villages were set on fire. As of September 2012, 187,052 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in 206 camps. They included 168,875 Muslims and 17,344 Bodos. Subsequent reports stated that approximately 36,000 people were still living in camps.

2011 The number of fatalities continued to decline. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, approximately 247 people were killed, including 80 civilians, 35 security forces, and 135 militants. In Assam, the South Asia Terrorism portal recorded a 40-per-cent decline in militancy-related fatalities, from 158 in 2010 to 95. Civilian deaths dropped by 27 per cent as general security improved. Manipur experienced a 53-per-cent decline in the number of deaths, from 138 in 2010 to 65, according to the SATP.

2010 According to South Asia Terrorism Portal, there were 322 conflict-related deaths. In Assam, there were 158 deaths, including 48 civilians, 12 security forces and 98 militants. In Manipur, there were 138 deaths, including 26 civilians, 8 security forces and 104 militants. In Nagaland, three militants were killed.

2009 According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 843 deaths were reported. In Manipur, 416 died, including 164 civilians, 13 security forces and 292 militants. Assam saw 392 fatalities, including 167 civilians, 21 security forces and 183 militants. Seventeen deaths–seven civilian and 10 militant–were recorded in Nagaland. Tripura saw one militant death.

2008 More than 1,130 conflict deaths were reported across India’s Northeastern states, a 13-per-cent increase from 2007. The dead included 455 civilians, 46 security personnel and 631 militants. Three states accounted for more than 95 per cent of the deaths: Assam (387), Manipur (499) and Nagaland (201).

2007 More than 1,000 people were reportedly killed, including 453 civilians, 65 security personnel and 501 militants. Assam, Manipur and Nagaland had the largest number of fatalities, with Assam recording 437 deaths, Manipur 408 and Nagaland 108.

2006 An estimated 627 were killed in clashes. Manipur (280) and Assam (174) experienced the greatest number of deaths.

2005 More than 700 people were killed in rebel-government fighting, rebel attacks on political targets, inter-tribal and inter-rebel clashes and police suppression of street demonstrations.

2004 More than 800  civilians and combatants were killed, including those killed during attacks on rebel bases in Burma, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.

2003 Assam, Tripura and Manipur experienced the most violence, with approximately 1,000 deaths a direct result of the fighting. Ninety per cent of the dead were civilians and rebel fighters. An estimated 40 people were killed in Nagaland.

2002 Assam was the state most affected by violence, although casualties declined from 606 in 2001 to slightly more than 400. By the end of the year, the death toll in Manipur had reached 150. More than 30 people were killed in Nagaland. According to media reports, approximately 50 people were killed in Tripura.

2001 In Assam more than 600 were killed, in Nagaland, more than 100 and in Manipur, more than 250. In the region, approximately 1,400 people were killed.

2000 More than 1,700 people, including many civilians, were killed.

1999 More than 1,200 civilians, rebels and government forces were killed.

1998 More than 1,400 deaths, including at least 600 civilian, were reported.

1997 The year saw a total of nearly 1,700 deaths.

1996 At least 1,200 deaths from ethnic clashes, bombings, assassinations and isolated attacks were reported. One report cited more than 300 deaths in refugee camps arising from May ethnic clashes.

Political Developments

2017 Terrorist groups in the northeast experienced many political and leadership changes in 2017, after  high-ranking terrorists were killed or apprehended or simply retired. Discussions were held between the Indian and Myanmar governments to secure their common border and halt the transit of drugs and terrorists.

Areas in the northeast, such as Nagaland and Manipur, made great progress in reaching peace accords with insurgent groups. With insurgent activities in the northeast at their lowest in several years, the time was ripe for peace negotiations and governance reorganization.

2016 In January, Manipur state policeman Thounaojam Herojit confessed his involvement in more than 100 extrajudicial executions (The Guardian). In July, India’s Supreme Court issued an interim ruling requesting information on 1,528 suspected extrajudicial killings in Manipur between 1979 and 2012. The court also issued a statement criticizing the security forces’ use of excessive force (Al Jazeera).

Near the end of the year, protests erupted after the Bodo determined that the Bjaratiya Janata Party government was neglecting their needs and making false promises (International Crisis Group). In October, the People’s Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement, NDFB, and All Bodo Students’ Union (ABSU) blocked all national and state highways in Assam for five hours (New Indian Express) in a peaceful protest that demanded a separate state for the Bodo people (The Shillong Times). In the fall, the Manipur state government proposed the creation of seven new districts; in response, the UNC imposed economic blockades on two major highways, which caused a scarcity of goods and price increases throughout the state, including the capital (Hindu Times). The blockade was met with angry counter-protests and 20 vehicles were burnt. In December, a government proposal to further subdivide the state resulted in killings, blamed on the Naga.

The same month, civic elections were announced that were opposed by tribal bodies, including the Naga Hoho, the umbrella organization for all major Nagaland tribes. Protests erupted over legislation that reserved 33 per cent of seats for women; many Naga tribes saw this as an infringement of customary laws protected under the constitution. The protests resulted in two deaths; the Home Ministry sent central forces to restore law and order (Indian Express).

2015 Elections for Assam’s autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council were held in relative peace on April 8, with a heavy security presence. On August 3 the government concluded a peace agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM). In September the government declared the NSCN-K an illegal organization, after the NSCN-K killed at least 18 soldiers in June and withdrew from peace talks in August. The national government authorized a tactical military strike against an NSCN-K militant stronghold in Myanmar. The Times of India reported that India did not inform the government of Myanmar until the mission was largely completed (Times of India). In December India extradited Anup Chetia, general secretary of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), from Bangladesh. This move was the latest in a series of extraditions of ULFA leaders that began in 2009. The Hindustan Times reported that there was hope that Chetia would join ongoing peace talks between ULFA leaders and the government (Hindustan Times).

2014 In general elections, Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won seven seats in Assam and one seat in Arunachal Pradesh. This marked progress for the BJP in India’s northeast, which in 2009 won only four seats in Assam. In the 2014-15 national budget, newly elected Prime Minister Modi allocated $8.6 billion (U.S.) for infrastructure and telecommunications initiatives in the northeast. To alleviate some hardships faced by the victims of violence in Assam, in December Modi approved relief amounting to approximately $3,200 (U.S.) for the next of kin of people killed and $800 (U.S.) to each person seriously wounded in the Assam attacks. On December 22, the government added five more years to a ban on all factions of the NDFB.

The Mizoram home department revealed that the central government had allocated approximately $1,263,000 to support Bru refugees returning from Tripura. This did not meet the full demands of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), which in an announcement on February 9 demanded increased monetary support per family, food supplies for two years, and allocations of land. In Manipur on February 6, the United Naga Council (UNC) began the first round of talks with the Union Government in Senapati District on an Alternative Arrangement for Naga-inhabited areas of the State. In Nagaland, the Lenten Agreement was signed on March 28 in a move to reconciliation among three Naga militant groups—NSCN-IM, NSCN-KK and Naga National Council/Federal Government of Nagaland (NNC/FGN). In Meghalaya, the Garo National Liberation Army-Faction (GNLA-F), which split from the GNLA in 2013, reinvented itself as A’chik Songna An’pachakgipa Kotok (ASAK) and further splintered this year, creating Achik Matgrik Elite Force (AMEF).

2013 At the Chief Minister’s conference on internal security in June, Prime Minister Singh and Union Home Minister Sushikumar Shinde highlighted the progress made in the Northeast to decrease levels of violence. Shinde noted that Suspension of Operations Agreements have been signed by numerous insurgent groups and, in February, several groups (URF, KCP, and KYKL) signed Memoranda of Understanding. Peace negotiations with the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland advanced. In October the Central government announced the creation of a new state, Telangana, that would separate from Andhra Pradesh in June 2014. As a result, tensions grew with Bodos, Karbis and Dimasas in Assam; tribal groups in Tripura; and Garos in Meghalaya.

2012 According to the State Director General of Police, “the present manpower strength of the Assam Police is very low…. The State Police is facing immense difficulties in maintaining the law and order.” Large areas of the Northeast are poorly governed; governmental gaps, coupled with widespread corruption, erode institutional capacity to contain violence. In August there were calls for a two-month general strike in parts of Assam to protest the state’s inability to prevent conflict. In response, the state banned strikes.

During the year, 707 rebels surrendered to state forces–676 in one January event that included rebels from seven different groups. More than 500 rebels were arrested, a 25-per-cent increase over 2011. Army chief Lalropuia and deputy army chief Biaknunga of the Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy, a rebel group operating in Assam, were among those arrested. Later in the year, the chairman of the HPC-D, which fights for the autonomy of the Mirozam region, was also arrested. The factions Dima Halam Daoga (the Black Widow group) and Dilip Nunsia signed a peace accord with the Central and State Governments, eight years after a ceasefire agreement. It was reported that the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang responded by attempting to expand its influence in Dima Hasao.

2011 As the result of negotiations and peace talks in Assam,  major rebel groups such as the UPDS surrendered their arms; talks continued between the ULFA and the government. India’s Congress Party was re-elected in May state elections. A report released in November by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that more than 76,000 people had been displaced by this conflict.

2010 The government held talks with the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN, the pro-talks faction of the ULFA, the pro-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, the Nunisa faction of the Dima Halim Daogah, Black Widow, United People’s Democratic Solidarity, Achik National Volunteer Council, Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front, Kuki National Organization and United Peoples Front. In March, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of the NSCN-IM met to discuss greater autonomy for Nagaland. The rebel forces wanted to integrate areas with pockets of the Naga population in the surrounding states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In May, peace talks between the government and NSCN-IM were held for the first time in Nagaland. In September, three rebel factions came together to form the Joint Working Group. The NSCN-IM, NSCN-K and the NNC decided to work together for Nagaland autonomy. Nineteen ULFA leaders surrendered and ULFA leader Arabinda Rajkhowa was released from prison on January 1, 2011. Rajkhowa indicated he was ready to engage in dialogue with the government. Commander-in-chief Paresh Barua led the faction of the ULFA that refused to engage in discussion. A change in leadership in neighbouring Bangladesh in 2009 ended support for many rebel groups from India’s Northeast.

2009 May elections, resulting in a victory for the Indian National Congress, were marked by escalations in violence. In Assam, only commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah of the UFLA’s executive council remained at large. Many members of Black Widow were forced to surrender in September and October after the arrest of commander-in-chief Jewel Gorlosa. Also in Assam, many UPDS militants surrendered.

2008 While several field commanders of the ULFA opted for a ceasefire and peace negotiations, violence continued. In Nagaland, a ceasefire was again extended; peace talks between the government and the NSCN-IM made only marginal progress. While there was some pre-poll violence, Nagaland Legislative Assembly elections were generally peaceful. Elections in the states of Meghalaya and Tripura were peaceful. The state of Manipur saw deteriorating conditions and was brought under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 for another year. This act also applies to Assam and gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search in assisting the civil power.

2007 The Nagaland ceasefire with the NSCN-IM was extended indefinitely. The leader of the NSCN-IM arrived in Delhi in December to continue peace negotiations. Elections in Manipur were mired in violence after Naga separatists attempted to block the participation of mainstream political parties. Burma’s military mobilized against Assamese separatist groups with bases in Burma.

2006 The Assam government and representatives from the ULFA attempted peace talks, with little success. In Nagaland, the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM was extended by six months and the ceasefire with the NSCN-K by another year. Efforts were made to better enforce India’s borders with Bangladesh and Burma. In Manipur, manyrefugees returned to their native villages. The Union Government sought to introduce a surrender and rehabilitation and reimbursement program in the provinces of Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.

2005 In July, the NSCN-IM extended a 1997 ceasefire for six months. The National Democratic Front of Bodoland signed a ceasefire agreement with the federal government; the Mizoram state government and the Bru National Liberation Front agreed to a peace accord, ending eight years of conflict. For the first time since 1992, peace talks were held between the Indian federal government and the United Liberation Front of Assam. A wave of protest swept West Bengal in September when tens of thousands of people of the Rajbongshi ethnic group demanded an independent state.

2004 In a change of policy, the Indian government announced it would meet with any rebel group that disavowed violence. Previously, the government would meet only with groups that had actively begun to disarm. A faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura indicated they were open to peace talks with the government.Several rebel groups announced ceasefires and began negotiations with the Indian government;  hundreds of rebels surrendered. Rebels in Assam rejected all offers of peace talks. Bhutan and Burma continued to attack Indian rebel bases in their territories. In support, India pledged additional training and military aid. India and Bangladesh undertook joint missions against Northeastern rebels for the first time. India and the United States pledged mutual aid in jungle-fighting as part of the U.S. war on terror. In a visit to Assam, India’s Prime Minister ruled out any discussion of sovereignty with separatists.

2003 The year saw a number of peace initiatives from insurgent groups and government officials. The main rebel group in Nagaland, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) met with the Indian government in January for unprecedented peace talks. The Bodoland Liberation Tiger Force, based in Assam, signed a peace agreement with the Indian government in January. After his capture in December, Bhimkanta Buragohain, the founder of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), called on his supporters to lay down their weapons and pursue their objectives through peaceful means.

2002 Two factions of the Kuki National Front agreed to cooperate in peace negotiations with the federal government. The Bodoland Liberation Tigers Force committed to peace talks in August after the authorities in Assam agreed to autonomy for the Bodos people. India accused Bangladesh and Bhutan of knowingly providing sanctuary to rebel groups active in Northeastern India.  India also accused Pakistan and China of supporting rebel groups to destabilize the region.

2001 The Indian government proposed unconditional peace talks with the ULFA. An Indian government agreement with rebels to extend a ceasefire beyond the state of Nagaland was opposed by neighbouring states. Between May and July as many as 18 people were killed in demonstrations against the ceasefire extension. At the end of July, the government reversed its decision.

2000 The United Liberation Front of Assam said that it would hold talks with Delhi under UN auspices only if Assam independence were discussed. In September, the Indian government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers agreed to extend their ceasefire by a year.

1999 A 1997 ceasefire, observed by most insurgent and government forces, was extended to July 2000.

1998 The Indian government extended a ceasefire with one Nagaland rebel group and oversaw the surrender of nearly 200 members of several insurgent forces.

1997 The creation in January of a Unified Command counterinsurgency system that combined army and police operations and an India-Bangladesh agreement increased pressure on rebel groups. An August 1 ceasefire between Indian government forces and NSCN-I/M was extended for an additional three months in October.

1996 The Asom Gana Parishad-led government assumed power in the state of Assam in 1996.


In the 1950s, the Indian federal state began a process of regional incorporation. In some cases, such as Nagaland, this incorporation required military occupation. Since then, a number of ethnic groups in India’s northeastern states, many of them historically autonomous, have been demanding either greater autonomy or independence from India.

During the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 and again when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in 1971, a large influx of Bengalis and other political refugees settled in the seven relatively less populated states of northeastern India. Subsequent waves of economic migrants followed. The indigenous population began to fear a loss of cultural identity, political power, and its share of the region’s resources. Various central governments carried out discriminatory economic and political policies in attempts to assimilate indigenous cultures, fueling the fears of the affected peoples and demands for independence. Ethnic-based independence groups including the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the Bodo Security Force, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, and the All Tripura Tiger Force, ignited the northeast’s insurgency against the Indian government.

In the early 1990s, the central government imposed direct rule on the state of Assam. A series of government successes appeared to sideline the ULFA, but by 1996 violence was on the rise throughout the region. In response, a Unified Command counterinsurgency system was created in Assam in 1997. Combining army and police operations, the Unified Command brokered government agreements with Assam’s neighbouring states to thwart cross-border insurgent activity. In 1997, the government and a faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland agreed to a ceasefire. In 2007, this agreement was extended indefinitely.

Continuing pressure on insurgent groups has resulted in the surrender of more than 2,000 ULFA and Bodo rebels since 1998. The intensity of the conflict has fluctuated as ceasefire agreements were made and broken, and as peace negotiations started and failed to produce formal agreements between the government and rebel factions.

The militaries of Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh have been drawn into the conflict, participating in joint missions and training with the Indian government.


Arms Sources

Like other insurgents in South Asia, Assam rebels probably obtain weapons through the illicit drug and arms trades. Some reports suggest that rebel groups steal large quantities of weapons from security forces, but also receive financial support from Indian nationals living in Malaysia.

The Indian government has accused Bhutan and Bangladesh of providing arms to northeastern insurgents. In 2004, reports emerged of illegal arms smuggled to northeastern rebel groups after the discovery of several Bangladeshi arms caches, including one that had 10,000 weapons, 5,000 grenades, and 300,000 rounds of ammunition. These discoveries fed fears that northeastern rebels were better armed than previously believed.

China has also reportedly supplied small arms to Nagaland rebels and has been accused of trying to unify Maoists and militants from India’s northeast as well as from Jammu and Kashmir state to dislodge the Indian central government with a “single war-fighting machine.”

In recent times, India’s defence budget has increased each year. Its military budget, which includes civil defence estimates for expenses such as military pensions, was $36.1-billion in 2011, $38.5-billion in 2012, $41.9-billion in 2013, $45.2-billion in 2014, $48-billion in 2015, and $51.1 billion in 2016 (The Military Balance, 2016, 250; Vol.2017, 289). India has a significant domestic arms industry, but also imports a large volume of weapons, mainly from Russia. Between 2008 and 2014, India moved away from producing domestic military goods and shifted to procurement from foreign suppliers (Small Arms Survey, Small Arms of the Indian State, 2). In 2011, deliveries included 37 combat aircraft, 10 helicopters of an 80-helicopter purchase order, and 100 tanks. In 2012, the Government of India commissioned a nuclear submarine from Russia. In 2013, India received weapon shipments from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which identified India as a long-term strategic partner.

In 2014, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated its “Make in India” campaign, promoting the production of domestic goods, including arms (The Military Balance, Vol. 116, 227). By the end of 2015, 64.29 per cent of all outstanding Indian arms contracts were with domestic firms, while a further 10.71 per cent of contracts involved a dual Indian-Russian partnership. India still imported weapons in 2015, with France, Russia, and the United States major suppliers (The Military Balance, 2016, 301-02).


Economic Factors


Reports indicate that northeastern militant groups fund their activities in part from protection money paid by drug, tobacco, and fake currency smugglers (First Post).

Groups fighting for independence accuse the Indian government of exploiting the region’s rich mineral resources, neglecting the general economy, and flooding northeastern states with migrants and settlers. Wages in the northeast region are 40 per cent lower than the national average. Minorities claim that economic discrimination is widespread; the region is a substantial supplier of oil, rice, and milk, yet it must import these same staples from other states in India. This has led to the claim that the region’s people “aren’t Indian (ethnically, constitutionally) but the resources are.”

In December 2016, the UNC implemented an economic blockade on two key highways in Manipur. This resulted in widespread scarcity of essential goods, including petrol (Hindu Times). 

Oil is a major factor in the Nagaland conflict, since the region reportedly sits on a multibillion-dollar reserve of oil. Tribes in Nagaland fear displacement when oil extraction begins and want assurances that oil development will not harm the environment. If oil extraction begins without an agreement with the Naga people, increased violence in Nagaland appears likely.

In a report issued on May 27, 2014, the Nagaland group ACAUT (Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation) criticized taxation and illegal money collection schemes in Nagaland, claiming that both militants and government representatives charge unfair entry fees on commodities, including essential goods.

map: CIA Factbook

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